The amount of money paid out to subsidise Scottish ferry services rose by nearly 20 per cent in the last financial year, according to a new report.
A total of £121.8 million was given to the David MacBrayne Group by the Scottish Government in grant funding during 2011-12, according to the group’s latest annual report, which was published on Friday.
And while £5.8 million - a year-on-year increase of one third - was paid back to the Scottish Government through efficiency savings, and the group’s operating profitability rose by 19 per cent to £3.8 million, there was a fall of five per cent in the number of cars and passengers carried - a figure which the group’s chairman, Bute resident Peter Timms, described as “disappointing”.
The increased subsidy has been ascribed to rising fuel costs and support for fares based on road equivalent tariff (RET) on Western Isles routes.
The group’s three subsidiaries, CalMac Ferries Ltd, Northlink Ferries Ltd and Argyll Ferries Ltd, carried 5.2 million passengers, 1.1 million cars and 1.5 million metres of freight during the course of the year. Freight traffic increased by six per cent on the 2010-11 figure.
Mr Timms said: “As recipients of significant amounts of public funding we take our responsibility to provide value for money to the taxpayer very seriously, so it was very pleasing to report that our ongoing efforts to improve efficiency, both internally and in collaboration with colleagues at Transport Scotland, has resulted in just under £6m being returned to the Scottish Government as part of a contractual ‘clawback’ payment.”
On the changes in vehicle and passenger numbers, Mr Timms said: “These figures reflect carryings across the group, and the impact on individual routes will vary enormously, with some doing better than others depending on local circumstances such as major building projects.
“That said, overall our feeling is that a combination of factors have contributed to a general decrease in traffic including fewer people travelling due to the economic downturn, higher fuel costs and poor weather.”
Mr Timms paid tribute to the crew and staff who had provided services to Orkney and Shetland under the Northlink banner, after the group lost the Northern Isles contract to Serco during the course of the year.
He also said the group wanted to make further improvements to the ‘customer experience’ of those using its services, such as updated ticketing systems and improved online booking.
CalMac Ferries Ltd was given an interim contract earlier this month to continue providing Clyde and Hebrides ferry services until the award of the next long-term contract in 2016.
* To read the David MacBrayne Group’s 2011-12 annual report in full, click on the link to the right of this article.